It wasn’t long ago that the FDA and other major health organizations were crusading against fat and calories as the major contributors to obesity and other health issues. Today, we are learning otherwise. It is time to take a closer look at sugar and its effects on our health and well-being. Simply put, neither fat nor calories have anywhere near the impact on your weight (or overall health) that sugar does, and it is time to start looking at sugar with a much more critical eye.

All Nutrients Matter
It is true that our bodies need various amounts of all kinds of nutrients to function normally. Some nutrients, however, are needed in much smaller amounts than we consume.

  • Most nutritionists would agree that there is a need for protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals (found in most fruits and vegetables) in specific daily amounts. Carbohydrates and sugars, on the other hand, are not the necessities we once thought they were.
  • Sugar is one of those nutrients that our body uses and processes best in small amounts.
  • We should never be eating anything that our bodies need to “keep up” with to function properly. Sugar is one of those nutrients.

According to the American Health Association, we need only about 100-150 calories per day derived from sugar. That accounts for less than 10 percent of the average person’s daily caloric intake and is close to the amount of sugar found in a single 12-ounce can of soda. Most Americans consume that daily without much thought to its effects on their health.

The Effects of Sugar on the Body
Americans tend to rely heavily on pre-prepared foods, and a shocking percentage of those foods have added sugar. In fact, the number is so high (approximately 80% of food or more), it is nearly impossible to get away from unless we prepare all our own meals from scratch. So what does that mean long-term?

Over-consuming sugar has numerous negative effects on the body. Here are just a few:

  • Fatty liver
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol

Sugar also has a particularly addictive quality that many clinicians equate to the effects of cocaine on the brain.

  • Much like a drug, sugar stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain and trains it to crave more.
  • Think about the sheer number of comfort foods that are high in both sugar and simple carbohydrates (which convert to sugar when metabolized).
  • Our bodies don’t need them, but our brains convince us that we do.

Sugar also makes us believe that we are hungry when we aren’t.

  • There are reasons why we crave certain foods and they almost always come back to how much sugar and carbohydrates are in them.
  • Hardly anyone craves spinach, but how easy is it to consume an entire pint of ice cream in one or two sittings without giving a thought to its long-term effects.

The Solution
The real solution to the problem of excessive sugar intake is awareness.

  • Being aware of the amount of sugar we take in can have a huge impact on what we decide to eat and in what amounts we decide to eat it.
  • Some people find, for example, that using fewer prepared foods, decreasing their intake of simple carbohydrates, and substituting water for soda between meals can all begin to bring those numbers down to manageable levels.

No matter how you decide to manage your sugar intake, chances are that certain dietary changes will be necessary. It might mean making slight changes to what you buy and how much “convenience” food you consume, but the long-term benefits are very likely to outweigh the momentary inconveniences.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Katlyn Lytle Rushing, PA-C